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St. Cloud grocer sent to prison for nearly $4.2 million in food stamp and COVID-19 assistance fraud

A St. Cloud grocer has been sentenced to prison for defrauding federal food stamp and COVID-19 assistance programs out of more than $4 million over a four-year span.

Hared Nur Jibril, 60, who owned and operated Hormud Meat and Grocery Market from 2009 until the end of 2021, was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in St. Paul to two years and six months in prison.

Judge Eric C. Tostrud also ordered Jibril to pay nearly $4.2 million in restitution.

Jabril pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud.

Before sentencing, defense attorney Christopher Keyser argued in a court filing for a sentence of one year in prison. Keyser pointed out the hardships of Jibril’s emigration from war-torn Somalia, the killing of his brother and his sister’s death as the family fled to Ethiopia.

Keyser also said his client’s scheme did not fund a lavish lifestyle for himself, but he “used these monies to lift others up and provide opportunities they otherwise would not have.”

“When regular patrons came to the store and could not afford items,” Keyser said, “Mr. Jibril would give them merchandise and allow them to pay him back over time.

“He hired people local to the community to work for him. The funds generated from his businesses were put back into payroll and used to help community organizations like kids’ youth programs.”

In proposing the sentence that Jibril ultimately received, the prosecution said in its pre-sentence filing that he “committed consistent, blatant, substantial fraud against programs designed to ensure that disadvantaged individuals and families have enough nutritious food to eat. … Mr. Jibril drove abundant foot traffic to his store, profiting from the government’s generosity.”

According to court documents:

From 2018 through 2021, Jibril and his employees exchanged food stamp benefits for cash and ineligible items, including phone minutes, personal care products and prepared food from his adjoining restaurant.

A tip to the FBI exposed the scheme, and investigators determined that the food stamp transactions totaled far more money than what there should have been for a store of Hormud’s size.

And despite his continued self-employment at the market, Jibril applied to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) for unemployment benefits, falsely claiming that he had been laid off because of COVID-19.

DEED granted his application for benefits, which were ultimately funded by the U.S. government as part of pandemic relief efforts. In total, Jabril received nearly $33,000 in unemployment assistance.

The market remains in operation in the 300 block of Division Street under new ownership.

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